GGU x PWN = Future Female Leadership
The Professional Women’s Network (PWN) Meets Girls Gearing Up (GGU) To Offer a Look at Authentic Global Sisterhood
Back in 2015 when I first heard Dr. Christina Limbird, co-founder of Girls Gearing Up (GGU) describe her organization, a lightbulb went off. I thought: yes, this is precisely what the world needs. Together with GGU director Courtney Adams, their organization is the only girls’ leadership group in the EU with the goal of empowering the next generation of female leaders.
These two women, Limbird and Adams, answered for themselves a crucial question: How could they change the trajectory of girls’ lives by providing access to international support, mentorship and leadership? Two years later, on October 26th 2017, I attended a meeting where I saw evidence of GGU’s success in this arena — by listening directly to the young girls themselves.
Two 15–16 year old ambassadors of the GGU program spoke at a recent event hosted by the newly-launched Professional Women’s Network( PWN) in Berlin. Held at Zalando, this was the third gathering of the Berlin-based chapter of the PWN Global Network.
The president of this chapter, Delphine Mousseau, described PWN Berlin as being ‘in its infancy.’ So there is plenty of time to join in, and I highly suggest you do. PWN is an international network accelerating more gender-balanced leadership in business and throughout society as well as opportunities for networking and career-building.
No Girl Stands Alone
This powerful combo meeting made a big impression on me, so I’m excited to share the experience. Firstly, it is fitting that these two groups, GGU and PWN, aligned that evening. Both organizations exist to break hurdles of gender bias, and to gather females together for inspiration and support.
After an ice-breaker where 20 women discussed their individual strengths and introduced each other to the group, we heard from the two girls about their own experience as ambassadors for GGU.
For some background, GGU is a place where girls aged 13–17 learn, find support, are able to authentically exchange ideas in a safe space, and practice becoming leaders. Leadership takes practice and is a learned skill. The ambassadors described the central core of Girls Gearing Up as follows and expanded on these themes during a subsequent panel:
- No girl stands alone. Pull a sister up.
- Take Risks
- Have Fun.
Kinesthetic Learning: Chairs Demonstrate Power
To experience what an actual GGU challenge feels like, we participated in one. It was a physical and mental exercise involving a group of chairs. We were asked to have one person at a time rearrange 11 chairs to demonstrate how one chair can become the ‘power chair’.
The results were fascinating. The terminology around concepts of power that stemmed from that challenge were remarkable. Exploring these terms gave us the chance to reflect on what shapes a powerful leader, and her relationship to the team that supports her. In this picture is the list of associated terms:
Dr. Limbird, who goes by Tina within the group, explained GGU’s raison d’etre in more detail. She says you can make a big deal difference in people’s lives by helping girls unlock their potential.
It sets off a wave of positive action for the future. You might wonder at first, why this is needed? It turns out that studies show girls as young as 6 years old tend to see boys as better or smarter. In order to balance or counteract that hurdle, the following needs to happen for girls:
- Grow Confidence
- Get Equipped ( e.g. learn coding, public speaking, managing skills)
- Be Inspired: “You have to see it to believe it” STEM careers require role models which increase likelihood of leadership. Girls benefit from exposure to possibilities, and so-called “power mentors.” GGU invites artists, politicians, scientists to tell their stories to the girls.
The ‘GGU way’ is truly based on Global Sisterhood. They encourage diversity, openness, and provide scholarships for refugees from Yemen, Syria, and Ghana. Their program offerings as described below, are an embodiment of phrases like ‘pulling a sister up’, and ‘you have to see it to be it’.
- Their main event is a Summer Leadership Academy during one week in July here in Berlin. This tends to involve girls from 10–12 different nations, where girls age 15–18 undergo team challenges, skill-based workshops, and leadership training.
- Berlin-based workshops: Recently GGU held one in association with FrauenLoop in which women taught girls to code.
- Year-round internships, marketing, and mentorship opportunities. The girls use Whatsapp to stay in touch and get advice even after graduation, and this keeps them connected across distances from Ghana, India, and Germany, for example.
Tina believes everybody has a light to shine. She says what she finds so rewarding and exciting is that: “What (the girls) have in common is greater than their differences.” She and Courtney’s mission is that the girls define for themselves what kind of change they want to make. So-called ‘changemaker’ girls have gone on to write novels, have internships at major corporations, and code during hackathons. One testimonial of a Syrian girl stated: “I had no idea that women could be so powerful.”
It was mesmerizing to hear the invited speakers, two 15–16 year old ambassadors for GGU whom I mentioned earlier. Ambassadors means that these girls embody the GGU culture and live it both in and outside of school.
Alexa Casanova, an MIB student who recently interned at GGU and is starting a university-level branch, posed six thoughtful questions to these girls. Their enlightened responses offered gems of wisdom which I recap here.
- The future of female leadership will involve more ideas and cooperation between people. Examples of progress include Saudi Arabia’s granting women the right to drive. These types of changes will expand women’s potential.
- GGU affected their future plans by exposing them to 24 new, global friends. They experienced a boost in confidence and notable change in personality pre- and post- GGU.
- They offered advice to others: take risks. If not, you won’t know the outcome. Try what you can to reach your goal. Talk to new people and make connections. Perhaps most importantly: remember to look at things from someone else’s perspective. Ask yourself, WHY is a situation the way it is.
- Cool mentors have the possibility to radically change your personal and professional outlook. Take for example meeting a CIO who moonlights as a DJ, or an impressionable meeting with a DW news anchor, which causes you to reflect on your actions, asking yourself: what would SHE do in my situation?
- In terms of what current leaders can do for their generation, they asked this: “Reach out to us.” Come to us and share your experience. Enhance the communication across generations. Be a mentor.
- Finally, their biggest hope for the next generation is to have a more open conversation that breaks social taboos about basic life things like mental health and periods. Be brave enough to go to events alone, connect with other people. Building one’s network and seeing how roles, or fused roles, are connected is valuable.
At that age, I would not have had the perspective and poise to say that!
Enabling young women to explore their potential and allowing younger voices to be heard is the real transformative testament to what GGU is achieving.
What’s Next for GGU and PWN Berlin?
For GGU leaders, the next phase is to prove the value of their outstanding program in measurable ways, create more interactions, and include more professions in and around their volunteer programs. They want to ensure the longevity and sustainability of their hard work, and be ready to scale up.
PWN Berlin will be hosting a future event in November and seeks to include more members.
Ways You Can Get Involved:
Thank you in advance for supporting these excellent causes!